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Florida's Gag Order Prohibiting Judges from Announcing their Views to be Challenged in Federal Court

Law suit argues that current rules which say judge candidates may announce their views-- but then later can be disciplined or removed from cases-- is unconstitutional

Contact: Paula McNabb, 407-251-1957, Info@FLfamily.org

TALLAHASSEE, Fl., Aug. 28 /Christian Newswire/ -- On Monday, August 28, 2006, the Florida Family Policy Council (FFPC) (FLfamily.org) announced the filing of a lawsuit in the Federal Court of the Northern District of Florida. The purpose of the suit is to strike down Florida’s Judicial Canon “gag orders” and recusal rules which prohibit judges from announcing their views on disputed legal and political issues without being subject to either discipline or removing themselves from cases brought before them.

On August 5, 2006, weeks before the launching of the Florida Family Policy Council Judicial Voter Guide, the Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Advisory Commission (JEAC) issued an opinion which stated that candidates may ethically announce their views on disputed legal and judicial issues. However, such an announcement could subject the judicial candidate to discipline or recusal from cases. The opinion states, “It must be remembered that when considering motions for disqualification that the eye of the beholder is the primary focus…. The judicial candidate must not furnish answers that appear to bind the candidate if such issues arise once the candidate has assumed judicial office.” (emphasis in original)

On Tuesday, August 22, 2006, the FFPC publicly released its first statewide judicial voter guide. The guide published the responses submitted by 118 county and circuit judge candidates out of a total of 239 candidates. 121 chose not to respond. Of the 118 candidates that did respond, the vast majority still declined to answer because they feared being subject to discipline for violation of the judicial canons on recusal. This makes the judicial voter guide almost useless as the voter has little substantive information regarding a candidate’s views on which to make an informed choice on judge candidates.

Plaintiff’s have retained attorney James Bopp, Jr., of the law firm Bopp Colson, & Bostrom. Attorney Bopp argued the landmark case of Minnesota Republican Party vs. White, in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that many provisions of current judicial canons violate the First Amendment Right of Free Speech. The lawsuit asks for immediate injunctive relief. It then alleges that Florida’s Judicial Recusal Canon’s are unconstitutional against those judicial candidates who wish to announce their views and toward the citizens who wish to hear such views.

Plaintiff John Stemberger, the President of the Florida Family Policy Council commented, “Judges announce their views on disputed legal issues every day when they make rulings or write an opinion. The only real question is, do we want to learn about a judge’s views before they are on the bench or after they are elected? This case is simply about free speech--a judge candidates right to speak and the public’s right to know information about their elected officials.” The FFPC is associated with Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family.

The Judicial Voter Guide and original responses of the candidates is available online at www.FLfamily.org  

A copy of the lawsuit complaint in this case is available at the link below:
http://209.151.145.52/uploadfile/upload/ComplaintFFPCFinal.pdf